Together for tomorrow


Last minute gift guide for the eco-conscious

by | Dec 23, 2019

You’ve got two days left before family Christmas time. You need gifts. Or you think you need gifts. You don’t have time for the mall, or you couldn’t think of anything worse to do with your precious leave time. You’ve come to the right place. We’ve got to be honest with you – this may be the first gifting guide that doesn’t encourage you to buy anything  – at least not as a first, second, third or even fourth resort. So if you’ve just come looking for our pick of this festive season’s best stocking stuffers and present goodies, rather read this guide to conscious gifting.

But first, let’s talk about stuff and how we probably don’t need any more of it. Yet we persist, feeling obliged to hand over and receive tangible representations of our affection in a never-ending cycle of stuff. This is obviously highly unsustainable, as more and more materials are used to make more and more products, without any real gratification or satisfaction and sheer over-saturation increasingly devalues what we do use and love. Without descending into a criticism of capitalism or commercialism (as you’ve likely heard it before), we’re breaking the habit and suggesting some more sustainable alternatives for you to make smart gifting choices this festive season.

In descending order of decluttering….

Don’t gift at all 

For the brave and extremely persuasive: If you can get the buy-in from your loved ones, try going without presents this festive season. Warning: we cannot be held responsible for crying children or strained Christmas lunches – we will admit these habits may be hard to unlearn.

Don’t gift directly

Many charities offer “Gift Donations” where you can make a donation in someone else’s name and give a bit back in the process. Some will even issue a certificate or card with the details of the donation, to give you something to hand over on the day. This way, your gift does good in the world and you can feel good in the knowledge that the festive spirit extends a bit further. We’ve offered some recommendations at the bottom of this article.


Rather than giving someone another ‘thing’, why not gift them an experience that they can use. Cooking classes, yoga lessons, a paragliding trip, massage voucher, festival tickets – the options are endless and it can also be a gift that keeps on giving. If you’re particularly talented or well-connected, you could even trade exchange with friends to save money. See here below for some ideas.


As a keen baker and crafter, I was a pro at the DIY gift throughout my skint student days. Saving money and giving a homemade, heartfelt special treat? Double bonus! Think homemade jams, biscuits or bath salts (separately), a bunch of flowers from your garden, or even a personal drawing or poem. And there’s nothing wrong with an old-school mixtape (although maybe in the form of a Spotify playlist in 2018). Check out Pinterest (but beware the rabbit hole) for some easy DIY gift ideas.


If you must shop, go second-hand. Books, clothes, accessories, knick knacks, kitchenware… Milnerton Market can be a Christmas Fare with the right mindset. Think creatively: a second hand picture frame plus a beautiful postcard could become a fresh new artwork. Tacky ceramic cats plus a coat of spray paint plus an air plant could be millennial kitsch chic.


Finally, if you must buy new – buy consciously. Shop local, shop sustainable, shop mindfully (do you definitely know that your sister-in-law will love the decorative plates you’ve picked? Would a voucher maybe be a safer bet?). See below for some ideas.

Family gifting alternatives

Another way to make your gifting more sustainable is to reduce the number of gifts in your family, friend or work group. Try introduce a Secret Santa or White Elephant system, which can be fun. By reducing the sheer number of gifts to be bought, this can also mean you can afford to spend a bit more on a single gift, which can make for a better quality or more suitable present. All you need to do is assign each person to buy a present for another person anonymously within a group. Often, a maximum and minimum price range is set. In this way, everyone gets one gift, hopefully something they will love.

But what about the children?

We know that trying to convince an eight year old that she or he should be satisfied on Christmas morning with a Tree Planted in their Name may be impossible, and that children may be more emotional and volatile than adults in wanting the “It” toy and wanting it now. In order to not raise the next generation on instant gratification and mindless consumerism, here are some options to give consciously to kids this year:

  • The Four Gift concept has gained popularity on Facebook and Pinterest lately and usually revolves around ‘balanced’ and limited gifting that satisfies both kids and parents. Versions include: “Something they want, something they need, something they’ll wear, something they’ll read” or “Something cool, Something for school, Something they’ll wear, Something they’ll share”
  • I’m going to give books a special mention here, because I think a lot of the world’s troubles could be fixed with more reading and literacy. I’m particularly fond of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (there’s also a follow-up, a version for boys, a mixed gender one, and an interactive journal). Children’s books are often affordable, easy to get second-hand and don’t clutter up a bedroom like forgotten toys can. And if you don’t know the child’s reading level or preferences, a book voucher can be a great empowering tool for a young child to choose their own.
  • If the child is too young for object permanence or self-awareness, don’t fool yourself: you’re buying a gift for the parent’s benefit. Ask them what they’d like or need for the child or go ahead and buy that tree in their name, the two-year old won’t know the difference anyway.

A note on wrapping

As a rule of thumb, if it’s shiny and glittery, it’s likely not recyclable. While it’s easy to magpie on cute wrapping and giant bows, it ultimately just makes for more colourful landfills. Skip the wrapping this year and rather go for upcycled options (newspaper, colourful scarves, random fabric, scrap paper, that “too good to throw away but we’re not really using it” wrapping paper from your birthday three years ago) or get creative with a recyclable option. You can get big rolls of uncoated brown or white butchers paper for cheap from packaging or art supply stores – then you (or any kids you have around) can get creative with potato stamps, handwriting or water colours, dig into that cupboard of ribbons and strings that we all seem to have, then throw on some fresh or dried flowers or a small keepsake. Voila! As with Julie Andrews, “brown paper packages tied up with string” can indeed be “a few of [your] favourite things!”

Indirect or Charity Giving

These gifts have dual benefits – by purchasing them, you do good for the earth, community, children or animals and mean one fewer gift of stuff making its way into the world! Well done!


  • Most yoga and exercise studios allow you to buy class vouchers or ‘passes’;
  • A gift voucher for a spa or salon leaves the big choices up to the receiver;
  • Or you could make your ‘own’ vouchers for a home cooked meal, shoulder massage, beach walk, babysitting etc;
  • Botanical Society Membership offers free entry to SANBI National Botanical Gardens countrywide (+ lots of other benefits)
  • A Wild Card grants one year’s unlimited entry to 80 plus National Parks, Reserves and Resorts around Southern Africa
  • Check out the ‘tourist’ adventure offerings in your city – sometimes it’s fun to rediscover your hometown with a fresh perspective. Paragliding over Signal Hill anyone?
  • Museum entries are also a great opportunity to learn (and if you take them) a lovely time spent together;
  • Theatre and show Tickets (especially at smaller independent theatres) are also a fun and memorable night out. Matilda The Musical is running at Montecasino (JHB) until 2 December then moves to the Artscape (CT) from 9 December to 13 January. Bookings are also open for Kinky Boots at the Fugard Theatre (CT) in June 2019.
  • Many comedy venues have shows daily or weekly. Check out Cape Town Comedy Club: or Goliath Comedy Club (JHB)
  • How about treating your favourite fan with tickets or season tickets to the orchestra, choirs, sports stadiums etc.?

Buying New

  • Spaza Store products are beautiful and empower women through a home industry production model:
  • Fabricate (Cape Town) offers an incredible selection of locally made jewellery, homeware and gifting:
  • The Watershed at the V&A Waterfront (Cape Town) is a good place to pick up a variety of products (but steer clear of the fast fashion in the main mall.)
  • Also check out Faithful to Nature


Image: Jeanelle van der Merwe

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